The ladies of one “Home Ec” club enjoy a silly springtime craft–making Easter Bonnets from scraps of this-and-that during a meeting. Their up-cycling was ahead of it’s time!
One project of the Purdue Extension was the formation of women’s clubs beginning just over 100 years ago. Here is an excerpt from one of my books written about the Boone County Extension Homemakers. Although it is specific to neighboring Boone County, when the clubs were formed, much of Marion County was still rural. Even in townships that were more heavily populated, the newest residents were often recent immigrants or those who had relocated from rural areas in search of work. They were very much pioneers in what we are calling “Urban Agriculture.” To these home gardeners and small land space farmers, UA meant the difference between survival and dire circumstance.
I hope you enjoy this look back at one facet of the Purdue Extension’s impact in Indiana in this excerpt from “The State of Boone” from Knocking River Press
“Husky Children, Healthy Husbands, and Happy Homemakers” (BCEH motto adopted 1937)
The Indiana Extension Homemaker’s Association was first organized in 1913. In 1936 it took root in Boone County when township clubs were formed. The women adopted their motto and creed for Boone County Extension Homemakers at their first conference in 1937. Lead by a Miss Beadle of Purdue University, the all-day meeting set forth the focus of projects and studies for the coming year. The subjects of concentration were decided as: Posture, Menu Planning, Protective and Corrective Foods, and Refreshments for Special Occasions.
Endearingly called “Home-Ec Clubs” The BCEH was not the first women’s group organized in the county. All sorts of sororities, public health, domestic sciences, political concerns, charitable aid, creative expression, poetry appreciation, high culture, book clubs, library and hospital guilds, card clubs, church boosters–and as many other reasons for a gathering as one could think of–were in existence long before Home-Ec came along. All forms of club membership and association were an important part of life for both men and women from the earliest years of settlement.
The new program rolled out in the 1930s certainly stood out as a lifeline to rural women in all corners of the county. The small groups provided a social outlet, education, networking and sharing among many who might be living an otherwise solitary existence.
Always supporters of 4H, the clubs started the popular Open Show days at the annual 4H fair. Women can participate in a variety of categories, win prizes, and even go on to compete at the state level. A popular fund raising event for the Homemakers is the baked goods auction at the end of Open Show. There’s always been a lot of love, pride and raw competitiveness baked into every entry. The auction creates some good-natured bidding wars and ego boosts for those whose entries glean top dollar.
The many volunteers, participants, vendors and visitors at the Boone County 4H fair have always counted on the Home-Ec ladies to feed them a wholesome meal over the course of the fair. Until recent years, food service was centered at a semi-outdoor kitchen area known as “the Bee Hive.” Here, big plates of tasty foods were served up with the centerpiece always being the pie slices. Home-Ec members knew how to bake! The assortment was mind boggling, and every piece was a blue-ribbon-worthy bite of heaven. Inside, the old Hive was always hotter than Hades, but the club volunteers served it all up with grace and a smile.
Fund raising is done to offset the tiny dues charged to members. Even in 2012, the annual fee for membership was set at $7 per year. Still, the thrifty women have always found ways to underwrite ribbons along with cash prizes for Open Show entries. They also host workshops and programs (like massive elementary school book giveaways) while managing to make large cash donations for worthy community causes.
When the kitchen at the community building of the new 4H grounds needed equipment, the Homemakers stepped up. The group as a whole was instrumental in getting the original facility funded and built by the county in 1959.
Home-Ec clubs aren’t all work and fundraising. The women also take cultural trips, host a Quilt Show and Bee, hold an annual Christmas Luncheon and are represented on the County Fair Board.
Enthusiastic supporters of the 1976 Bicentennial celebration, the Homemakers were integral to coordinating the completion of the Bicentennial Sampler. The only thing larger than the 10’x12′ quilted “sampler” was the participation county-wide. Each township’s Home-Ec club solicited patch contributions showcasing needle artistry representative of their township. This was done in cooperation with area coordinators. The result, now on display in the courthouse rotunda, was the end product of more than 1000 hands-on contributors.
The front of the sampler is a county map with each township outlined. Within each township, several stitched and patched pieces depict important aspects of the local community. Upon close inspection of Perry Township, an embroidered gavel can be found–symbolizing my own Mom’s service as the bicentennial year County President of BCEH. The edge and backside of the piece consist of small patches made by individuals. Each name represents a committee member, a service organization, a local official or office, or a longtime landmark business.
The original intent was for the sampler to be hung from the courthouse rotunda for the yearlong celebration. After the year was up, the Bicentennial Committee planned to have the quilt laminated to protect it from fading or deterioration. Unbeknownst to those who chose the rotunda as the ultimate display spot, the fabric and stitching was protected naturally by the filtering effect of the courthouse’s double layered dome of stained glass protected by an exterior shell. Forty years after the United States celebrated its 200th birthday, the decoration that was only supposed to be on display for one year is still in place.
People visiting the courthouse, whether for business or pleasure, are often seen hugging the second story marble railing to photograph the beloved sampler.
The club creed written up in 1937 read~
We believe in the present and its opportunities, in the future and its promise; in everything that makes life large and lovely, in the divine joy of living and helping others; and so we endeavor to pass on to others that which has benefited us, reaching the pinnacle of economic perfection, in the improving, enlarging, and endearing the greatest institution in the world,…THE HOME.
A listing of the Past County Presidents is provided in this book. The women are named with the year they began serving their term as head of all the Boone County Extension Homemakers. The number who served as president of their own township’s club, worked on a committee or held membership would fill an entire book many times the size of this. Membership was incredibly widespread, even becoming very popular among the non-rural population.
If there is a favorite food traditional to your Boone County gatherings at table, chances are pretty good it was once a recipe shared at a Home-Ec meeting–Husky, Healthy, Happy!
All citizens of The State of Boone have benefited greatly from the quiet work of the Extension Homemakers